I'm Emotional About My British YouTubers
Saturday morning, on the slopes of a ski resort, I breathlessly called my friend.
“Zoe’s pregnant,” I yelled the moment she picked up. My friend screamed. I told her to check social media. It wasn’t that our friend, Zoe, had texted us the news that she was having a baby we’d one day see and hold IRL. Instead, our imagined friend, YouTube star Zoe Sugg, had announced on Instagram that she and longtime boyfriend YouTuber Alfie Deyes were expecting their first child.
It may seem weird for my friends and I to be on a first-name basis with someone we’ve never met, let alone someone whose content I only occasionally consume anymore. Zoe Sugg, now 30, began posting YouTube videos about fashion and beauty nine years ago under the name “Zoella.” The channel earned over 11 million subscribers, but the author and lifestyle creator transitioned full-time to her “extra” vlog channel in 2018. Sugg was part of the “British invasion” on YouTube in the early 2010s, when creators like her, now-boyfriend Deyes, brother Joe Sugg, Louise Pentland, Tanya Burr, Marcus Butler, Jim Chapman, Caspar Lee, and more gained popularity as a quasi-monolith thanks to their intertwining friendships, romantic relationships, and video collaborations.
This chapter of YouTube has been remembered in the occasional nostalgic post on places like TikTok, but the news that Sugg and Deyes—the only remaining couple from the era, and by far the most popular—would soon be parents to a daughter just about broke (a very specific corner of) the internet.
For many, the buzz was a reintroduction to an era of internet creators they’d long moved on from. In the past few years, some creators, like Burr and Butler, transitioned to new careers like acting and modeling. For others, like Pentland and Chapman, the vlogging has continued, but certainly not at the pace and popularity of newer creators, whose videos regularly receive views in the tens of millions and land them invites to fashion week and mainstream magazine spreads. In 2013, my British YouTubers still felt like a secret, thriving in their own niche internet community.
The celebration of Sugg’s long-anticipated pregnancy has resurrected a fandom I never thought I’d have the chance to experience again. At the time, I was the only person I knew IRL who watched those creators. It wasn’t until college when I met a grand total of two people in the flesh who knew what a “Zoella” was or who I was talking about if I threw out the phrase “Sprinkle of Glitter.”
Post-grad, I’d still occasionally tune into their content, but had all but accepted their days were numbered and that I had outgrown them, anyways. Then, Sugg posted her announcement, and suddenly I was watching her next video minutes after it had been posted like it was 2014, tearing up at these literal strangers who are going to raise such a happy daughter who is so loved, and—I’m getting emotional again.
While we’ll never have the British Invasion back in full, the comments on Sugg’s Instagram are a virtual reunion of friendly, forgotten faces. Exes Butler and Niomi Smart were suddenly back in the same digital room sending Sugg well-wishes. Gabriella Lindley, who had a rumored falling-out with Sugg, was there posting heart emojis. Mark Ferris, LilyPebbles, TheAnnaEdit, Sammi Maria—and a bunch of other names you may only remember when you read them—are there, too. If I close my eyes, imagining the feeling of too-tight American Apparel disco pants and Peter Pan collars, I can pretend the gang never left.